We are rather fond of Belgian beer, which seems to end up dictating a large part of our Belgian weekends. The beer is varied, but always strong, which doesn't lend itself to early mornings, or even late nights (a few of them and sleep is not far away). As well as the beer, the easy journey on the Eurostar - taking us from St. Pancras right into Brussels in a matter of a couple of hours - has definitely also helped in our decision to keep on visiting Belgium.
We decided to walk from the station to our hotel, which was right in the centre, pausing along the way to see the Palais de Justice and stopping for a bite to eat nearby. The mighty palace was covered in scaffolding, which it has been for years, apparently - the country does have the money to complete the cleaning job but it just can't be bothered, I was told. I was interested to see whether the city still looked like a bombsite, which it did during my first visit in 2002. I hadn't liked it then, so had relatively low expectations. Fortunately things have improved dramatically - there was barely any rubble, the weather was better and I had much better company! Next to the Palais was a defaced "no entry"sign which I rather liked, and noticed a number of different varieties along the same theme during the visit.
The rain soon cleared and we continued on our journey into the centre, and again I was impressed with the lack of building sites! We passed the stunning church, Petit Sablon, and a couple more amusingly defaced signs.
Preparations were being made for a summer festival, which seemed to consist of a few large stages and music aimed at people half my age. We did a little detour to see the Mannekin Pis, a strange mascot for a city, the sun now shining above us. He was all dressed up (in what looked like a scout outfit) and was surrounded by tourists snapping away or just hanging about aimlessly, perhaps awaiting instructions from their flag-waving guide.
Onwards to Grand Place, where crowds swarmed to see a parade that was in full swing. I couldn't see what was going on through the throng of tourists, but held my camera above my head, as did everyone else, and could just about make out some people dressed in red marching up and down.
We didn't hang around but headed through the picturesque Galerie du Roi to our beautiful hotel (the Dominican).
After check-in we set off towards Tour & Taxi, a redeveloped train station towards the north-west of the city, on the other side of the canal (there is a canal in Brussels, it's just not very pretty); I thought it might hold some photographic opportunities. The building itself was impressive, and looked more like an old prison, but inside was completely dead. It looked as if it needed another few years before it got any kind of buzz. There were no grungy, atmospheric dockside warehouses to photograph.
After meandering back via the St. Catherine area and Grand Place, which was now illuminated in the early evening sun, we settled ourselves down to another couple of beers at the À La Mort Subite, a beautiful bar around the corner from the hotel.